In another twist to the controversy surrounding the “secret letter” of the US State Department linking fuel supplies to India with nuclear testing, Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar on Thursday said the impression that the government knew about the contents of the letter was “totally misplaced”.
“The existence of such a correspondence was known. We came to know it from the media. But India had no idea about the contents of the letter,” Kakodkar told the Times Now news channel amid growing suspicions among political parties in India about the nuclear deal.
“The impression that is gaining ground that the government knew about the contents of the letter is totally misplaced,” he said when asked about US ambassador David Mulford's contention that the details of the controversial letter were shared in “an open and transparent manner” with India.
Kakodkar, however, struck an optimistic note about India winning a waiver for global nuclear commerce from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which began its two-day meeting in Vienna.
“Discussions are going on. In the end, it will have a satisfactory conclusion,” he said.
The State Department said in a 26-page letter to the late Representative Tom Lantos on Jan 16 that the US would cease nuclear cooperation with India immediately, including the supply of fuel, if it conducted an atomic test.
The letter was made public Tuesday by Representative Howard L Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The disclosure of the letter on the eve of the NSG meeting came as a blow to the Manmohan Singh government as leading opposition parties accused him of misleading parliament on the crucial issue of testing.
The US envoy went on a damage control exercise on Wednesday night. “This letter contains no new conditions and there is no data in this letter which has not already been shared in an open and transparent way with members of Congress and with the government of India,” Mulford said in a statement.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) quickly seized on Mulford's statement as further proof that the government knew it all along, but misled parliament on the issue.
Both the BJP and the Communist parties have demanded a special session of parliament to discuss issues arising out of the State Department's letter.
Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma on Thursday tried to counter what he called “politically motivated” controversy. “This government has safeguarded India's sovereign interests and its option to test,” Sharma said.
New Delhi has made it clear that it is “solely guided” by the 123 India-US bilateral agreement, which does not contain any reference to testing, the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a clean waiver it is expecting from the NSG.